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Celtics acquire Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton, 1st-round pick in deal that may pave way for LeBron James to Cleveland 07.09.14 at 10:51 am ET
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Marcus Thornton

Marcus Thornton

The Celtics acquired Tyler Zeller and a first-round pick from the Cavaliers and Marcus Thornton from the Nets in a three-team trade that may pave the way for LeBron James‘ return to Cleveland, ESPN’s Marc Stein first reported.

In return, the Celtics are sending a second-round pick to the Cavs and using the $10.3 million trade exception they received upon dealing Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn last summer. That TPE was set to expire on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Nets receive Jarrett Jack and Sergey Karasev from the Cavaliers, freeing enough cap space (roughly $24.0 million) for Cleveland to potentially offer James a maximum contract of four years, $94.8 million.

As a result, the Celtics reportedly received Cleveland’s No. 1 pick in 2016 (top-10 protected through 2018), a 24-year-old 7-footer under their control through 2016 and Thornton’s expiring $8.6 million contract for a second-round pick.

In addition to acquiring Zeller, who averaged 13.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per 36 minutes last season, the Celtics could have as many as nine first-round picks over the next four seasons and $41.4 million in expiring contracts (Rajon Rondo‘s $12.9 million, Brandon Bass‘ $6.9 million, Joel Anthony‘s $3.8 million and potentially Jeff Green‘s $9.2 million player option). There’s no doubt the move puts the Celtics in a better position to acquire Kevin Love or any other desirable player by trade this season or by free agency next summer.

According to Kirk Goldsberry‘s easily digestible shot charts, Zeller (1,049 min, 5.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 58.1 TS%, 15.4 PER) attempted nearly 70 percent of his shots around the basket and converted almost 60 percent of them. Likewise, Thornton (1,741 min, 9.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.1 apg, 51.1 TS%, 12.0 PER) is a decent enough 3-point shooter from the right corner, left arc and straightaway, but underwhelming from mid-range and the paint. Neither are considered defensive stalwarts. Quite simply, this trade, in a vacuum, does not make the C’s much better this year.

Additionally, the Celtics now have $64.7 million in guaranteed contracts dedicated to Rondo, Gerald Wallace ($10.1M), Green, Thornton, Bass, Anthony, Avery Bradley (estimated $8M), Vitor Faverani ($2.1M), Kelly Olynyk ($2.1M), Zeller ($1.7M) and Jared Sullinger ($1.4M). That puts them over the estimated $63.2 million salary cap. Details of Marcus Smart‘s contract haven’t emerged, but cap holds for him and James Young already add another $4.1 million to that number. Likewise, the C’s also have Phil Pressey, Chris Johnson and Chris Babb signed to non-guaranteed minimum contracts, pushing their current commitments to $69.7 million.

In other words, the best the Celtics can now offer a free agent is the non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.3M), meaning Ainge probably isn’t done dealing this summer, especially if he hopes to avoid the lottery again next year.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Danny Ainge
NBA Draft’s Potential Celtics: UNC C Tyler Zeller 06.16.12 at 4:38 pm ET
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As part of WEEI.com’s coverage of the 2012 NBA draft, we are profiling all players considered likely candidates to be drafted June 28. The Celtics own three picks: 21, 22 (from the Thunder in the Kendrick Perkins trade) and 51.

Tyler Zeller is expected to be a reliable but unspectacular NBA center. (AP)

TYLER ZELLER

Position: Center

School: North Carolina

Age: 22

Height: 7 feet

Weight: 250 pounds

Achievements: 2012 All-America second team (AP, Sporting News, NABC, USBWA), 2012 ACC Player of the Year, 2012 Academic All-American, 2011 All-ACC second team, 2011 Academic All-American

Key 2011-12 stats: 16.3 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 55.3 FG%, 28.2 minutes

What he brings: Zeller fits the mold of an NBA center and along with his size he has shown solid athleticism and an ability to run the court smoothly. He has shown to have an effective low-post game offensively and has a strong right-handed jump hook that is his go-to move.  Zeller has the speed and leaping ability to be a great pick-and-roll big man. He has also shown to be a good rebounder and solid shot-blocker.

Despite fitting the NBA center mold he isn’t strong enough to translate that size into success yet. He is too easily pushed around down low at times on both sides of the ball. His awareness both offensively and defensively isn’t the greatest. Zeller also is prone to turnovers.

Zeller would be a good fit in a fast-paced offense because of his speed and athleticism. However, in halfcourt sets he bogs down an offense. He needs to increase his offensive awareness as well as add strength.

Where the Celtics could get him: Zeller is considered to be a mid-to-low-end lottery pick, so the Celtics would need to trade up to get him.

Notes: Zeller’s brother, 6-foot-11 Cody Zeller, had an impressive freshman season at Indiana in 2011-12. Another brother, Luke Zeller, played at Notre Dame and now plays in the NBA’s D-League. … Zeller broke his left arm early in his freshman season but returned late in the season to help North Carolina win the 2009 national championship.

Recent articles:

USA Today: Tyler, Cody Zeller carry on basketball family tradition

Charlotte News & Observer: UNC’s Tyler Zeller takes tough loss with faith

New Orleans Times Picayune: Hornets take a good look at draft prospect Tyler Zeller

Video: Here’s a compilation of highlights from Zeller’s senior season.

Read More: 2012 NBA Draft, 2012 NBA Draft's Potential Celtics, Tyler Zeller,
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